What Small Car Should I Buy?

Small cars are ridiculously popular, so how do you choose the right one?

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How to Choose the Right Small Car

A staggering 250,000 people bought small cars costing less than $40,000 during 2013. There are more than 30 different cars in this category, so choosing the right one is a real challenge. Hell, making a list an getting all of the vehicles in this category actually on it is hard enough. It’s not as if anyone with a real job has the time to drive them all, or even research them all online.

Small cars are the second size up the ladder, basically. One rung up from the ‘light’ or ‘sub-compact’ class. We’re talking cars like the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 – the slightly bigger brothers and sisters to the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai i20 on the ground floor.

Below is my top 5 list of small cars, and a list of cars in this category that I rate as ‘don’t buy’ propositions.

If you think you want a car that’s not in my top five list below, it’s not necessarily a mistake (as long as it’s not on the ‘don’t buy’ list further on). However, make sure you test the car you want against two or three of the cars in the top five before going ahead with the deal.

When it comes to actually buying the car, make sure you understand how dealerships work. Watch my video below, or read the video transcript here.

To get a better deal on a new car, and a fairer price on your trade-in, why not use Australia’s best car broker – best prices, with the car delivered to your door with a full tank of fuel, all without the stress and hassle of ever going face to face with a car dealer. Contact me to find out how.


AUSTRALIA’S TOP 5 SMALL CARS

MAZDA3

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GOOD

  • Brilliant all-new model improves on insanely popular predecessor
  • Excellent dynamic driving experience
  • Terrific build quality
  • Beautiful styling
  • Conventional automatic a better drive than Corolla/Lancer CVT
  • Five-star ANCAP safety rating
  • The Mazda3 is made in Japan

BAD

  • No diesel engine available
  • 3yr/100,000km not on par with Hyundai/Kia
  • Features/value equation not on par with Hyundai/Kia
  • Mazda3 sales 2013: 42,082 unit

Comprehensive Mazda3 specifications and pricing

Contact me to ask a question or get a great price on a new Mazda3


HYUNDAI i30

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Watch my Hyundai i30 Video Review

Read this Q&A on the Hyundai i30

GOOD

  • Unbeatable warranty (5yr/unlimited kilometres)
  • Terrific value
  • Best car Hyundai has offered to date
  • Solid feel, responsive drive
  • Available with diesel or petrol, and hatch or wagon
  • Five-star ANCAP safety rating

BAD

  • Not as good on the build/drive as Mazda3

SALES

Hyundai i30 sales in 2013: 30,582 units

BUILD

The Hyundai i30 is made in the Czech Republic

Remember that a Hyundai Elantra is basically an i30 in sedan configuration

Comprehensive Hyundai i30 specifications and pricing

Contact me to ask a question or get a great price on a new Hyundai i30


KIA CERATO

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Read this small hatch Q&A

GOOD

  • Shares Hyundai i30 fundamentals because Hyundai/Kia are the same company
  • Terrific warranty and value (same proposition there as i30)
  • Koupe Turbo version shares Hyundai Veloster Turbo fundamentals
  • Five-star ANCAP safety rating

BAD

  • No diesel engine available
  • No wagon available

SALES

Kia Cerato sales in 2013: 5785

BUILD

The Kia Cerato is made in South Korea

Comprehensive Kia Cerato specifications and pricing

Contact me to ask a question or get a great price on a new Kia Cerato


MITSUBISHI LANCER

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GOOD

  • Only Japanese manufacturer to match South Koreans on warranty. (Mitsubishi is 5yr/160,000km against Hyundai/Kia on 5yr/unlimited – but the distance is irrelevant for most drivers because average Australian cars do only 15,000km annually.)
  • Available in sedan and hatch.
  • Great build quality
  • Excellent to drive
  • Five-star ANCAP safety rating

BAD

  • Continuously variable transmission not as pleasant to drive as conventional auto (but good for fuel economy)
  • No diesel powertrain option
  • Can’t match Hyundai/Kia on value

SALES

Mitsubishi Lancer sales in 2013: 11,408

BUILD

The Mitsubishi Lancer is made in Japan

Comprehensive Mitsubishi Lancer specifications and pricing

Contact me to ask a question or get a great price on a new Mitsubishi Lancer


TOYOTA COROLLA

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GOOD

  • Most popular car in Australia, 2013
  • New model a serious upgrade on predecessor – shows Toyota can build cars with character when adequately motivated
  • Great build quality & excellent reliability
  • Terrific national service backup
  • Five-star ANCAP safety rating

BAD

  • Continuously variable transmission not as pleasant to drive as conventional auto (but good for fuel economy)
  • Can’t match Hyundai/Kia for value

SALES

Toyota Corolla Sales in 2013: 43,498 (Australia’s top-selling car)

BUILD

The Toyota Corolla is made in Japan

Comprehensive Toyota Corolla specifications and pricing

Contact me to ask a question or get a great price on a new Toyota Corolla


DON’T BUY

You’re making a mistake of you are even thinking about these cars

CHERY J3

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  • Not really an alternative to a new car
  • Ticks both boxes: cheap & nasty
  • Legendary Chinese build quality...

HOLDEN CRUZE

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  • Hastily re-badged Daewoo (now called GM Korea) reinvented for Australia
  • Is dogged by a serious of serious product safety recalls (read more on why the Holden Cruze is a dog)
  • Workers currently building the car in ‘death row’ environment in Elizabeth, SA – looking down the barrel of guaranteed job loss in 2017 when factory shuts (not exactly an environment conducive to the achievement of automotive excellence)
  • Litany of dissatisfied customers and quality problems longer than your arm

HONDA INSIGHT

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  • A kind of ‘Prius light’ with half the tech and fundamentally flawed execution
  • Honda has dropped the ball globally – formerly the BMW of the east, but KO-ed by the double whammy of the GFC and tsunami. Still hasn’t recovered.
  • Honda is on the nose Down Under. Sales collapse from 60,529 in 2007 to 39,258 last year – a fall of more than 33 per cent with the overall market up 10 per cent
  • Insight is a terrible drive and a resale disaster – fundamentally unchanged since 2010 debut, and Pirus (plus Prius V) out-sells it almost 10 for one.
  • Wouldn't pull a sailor off your sister, and it looks like a cockroach

PROTON GEN-2

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  • Proton is a Malaysian equivalent of South Korea’s Daewoo, with lacklustre everything and almost no sales to speak of

PROTON PREVE

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  • Proton is a Malaysian equivalent of South Korea’s Daewoo, with lacklustre everything and almost no sales to speak of
  • All that, and looks to match...

PROTON SUPRIMA S

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  • Proton is a Malaysian equivalent of South Korea’s Daewoo, with lacklustre everything and almost no sales to speak of
  • The term 'depreciation disaster' comes to mind. And gorgeous to boot...

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF

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  • This is a very real mistake – of epic proportions. A very sexy brand dogged with fundamentally flawed technology (cool concepts executed poorly) and a litany of terrible customer service here and around the world.
  • Buying a Volkswagen is a strategic error. It seems like a great idea until the car just stops in traffic, and dealers couldn’t care less – a double-whammy of under-done engineering and customer care philosophy failure.